Two for three

Teammates vie for one last title shot

Men’s rugby veterans (from left to right) Jacob Rumball, James Dent, Brendan Sloan, David Worsley and Tommy Kirkham are gunning for a third straight OUA championship.
Men’s rugby veterans (from left to right) Jacob Rumball, James Dent, Brendan Sloan, David Worsley and Tommy Kirkham are gunning for a third straight OUA championship.
The Gaels face the McMaster Marauders tomorrow in a rematch of their only loss in 2014.
The Gaels face the McMaster Marauders tomorrow in a rematch of their only loss in 2014.

With no more than two games left in their time at Queen’s, several men’s rugby veterans are itching for one last championship.

A win in this year’s OUA final would give the Gaels three straight titles — the league’s first three-peat in nearly two decades. A first-place regular season finish has the Gaels primed to enjoy home-field advantage in the playoffs.

The players will be looking for revenge tomorrow when they host the McMaster Marauders in the OUA semi-final. The Gaels fell 18-13 in an away game against the Marauders on Sept. 28.

Five of the team’s veteran players — James Dent, Tommy Kirkham, Jacob Rumball, Brendan Sloan and David Worsley — sat down with the Journal to discuss their journey at Queen’s and the desire to end it with a win.

You’re on the verge of a three-peat. How much has that been weighing on your mind this season?

Kirkham: Being on the verge of three-peating is a pretty big deal, but I know from my standpoint, I’ve just been trying to take it one game at a time and not get too ahead of myself, because once you start thinking ‘what if, what if’ you start losing out on the true goals.

How much do you think the title experiences have helped develop you as players?

Worsley: When we got that first one, it was definitely big to get off our chest and have the experience of being in there. We’re all pretty comfortable — there’s nothing that really fazes us too badly. It’s kind of second nature to just go and get the job done.

Dent: They’ve definitely solidified the work we’ve done. A lot of us started with the club system or on the two team, so to go up through the club teams, to spend a ton of time in the gym, winning a couple of championships made that really worthwhile for us.

Sloan: All of us have been there. We’ve all won a championship and we all know how good that feels, so that’s the biggest motivator. That’s the best feeling in the world, and to do it with the guys you’ve done in with before is a great thing to look forward to.

As older players, is there a little extra motivation to win another title near the end of your time at Queen’s?

Kirkham: Being older, there’s always pressure on you from alumni, especially alumni who graduated with a championship under their belt. You think that you should continue that winning tradition. But then again, being older is really a benefit for us. We know how to deal with the pressure and just take it in stride.

Rumball: It isn’t really justifiable for any of us to come back to university for another year. This is going to be the only time where we’ll be at a socially acceptable age to win another championship in this league.

Some of you were on the team that fell to Western in the 2011 OUA final. How much motivation came from that loss?

Rumball: That sucked. That was one of the worst feelings any of us have ever had in our lives. I think we were bitter about for a long time, because we worked so hard that season to get to that position and then we fell.

You guys had a big win over Waterloo last weekend that gave you home-field advantage. What’s it like having that during the playoffs?

Dent: It’s absolutely huge for us. There’s nothing like playing in front of the fans we have here. When we travel anywhere else in Ontario, the crowds aren’t that big, but when we’re here, we have hundreds of people come out and it gets us pretty fired up for the game.

Sloan: You also know that it means a lot to a lot of the guys in the crowd, because we have such a huge club system — we have close to 200 guys this year — so you know that people aren’t just there to watch a rugby game. They want to win it as bad as you want to win it.

You had a big win over Western during Homecoming weekend. What did that win mean to you as individuals and to the team as a whole?

Rumball: It’s always a big thing beating Western. We try to not get a rivalry worked up in our heads and we always say ‘it’s not Western, it’s just any other team’, but that particular group of guys are a team we love to beat because they like to play on the other side of the line in terms of fairness. Beating them is always much more satisfying than beating anyone else during the regular season.

As a group that’s been together for a few years, how have the bonds between you as teammates grown and developed?

Worsley: I’d say that’s probably the best part about playing rugby at Queen’s. It’s a pretty unbreakable friendship. It sounds kind of corny, but it is and it’s awesome.

Sloan: Five years ago as rookies, we billeted with veterans during training camp. Dave and James were the first two guys I met. Five years later, here we are living together. Everything we do in the community, as well, it just pounds away at building a stronger team and building that community.

How has that familiarity helped the team’s play over the last few years?

Kirkham: Being close really helps us play because when we’re huddled up there, looking around at the faces in that circle, you’re not just playing for Queen’s. You’re playing for these guys you’ve developed with for a long time. They’re your family, they’re your brothers and you want to play hard for these more than anything else. You’ll get hurt for these guys, you’ll put your body on the line.

Dent: We’ve all been together for about three years on the same team and you get to know how players respond in different situations, who’s strong in certain areas. That really lets the team play to an optimal level if everyone’s doing their roles well and everyone else knows what they can do.

Looking forward to the playoffs, what do you think the keys to winning a title will be for the team this year?

Worsley: We’ve got the players, we’ve got the coaches, we’ve got our systems. We know what we have to do — we just have to go and execute it on game day. We go out Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday in the week and train. Then, when it’s game time, just switch on, play the game and execute.

Rumball: Just chilling out, because at the end of the day, it is a game and we all recognize that. I think even in the biggest games, sometimes we step back and laugh a bit at the things that are going on. It’s about being there — it’s not so much about winning. I think that takes a lot of the pressure off when you want to take home that championship in two weeks.

What do you think the legacy of your teams will be?

Kirkham: I think we’ve left a great legacy here. Obviously, a winning tradition already. We’ve steadily progressed in our community initiatives and the club has progressively gotten bigger and bigger and it’s just more inclusive. There’s definitely some young guys that like the system as it is right now, and I think it will last for quite a bit longer.

Sloan: The way the club has grown over the years, so that really good players from across the country want to come to Queen’s and learn from some from of the best coaches in the country. I think we’ve left a great legacy. There’s lots of good things in the future of Queen’s rugby.

This interview has been condensed for content and clarity.

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